By Harrison Arubu
The need for protection of freedom of the press and opinion dominated speeches at an event to mark the 2019 World Press Freedom Day at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday.
Various speakers took turns to decry the “growing dangers to press freedom around the world’’, calling for action against those responsible.
In a message, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said he was “deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks and the culture of impunity’’ targeted at media workers around the world.
Almost 100 journalists were killed in 2018, with hundreds imprisoned, says the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO),
This brings to a total of 1,307 the number of journalists killed between 1994 and 2018, according to the organisation.
The UN chief noted that when journalists and other media workers are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price.
Guterres emphasised that “a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights’’.
On the theme of this year’s commemoration, “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’’, he stated that democracy was incomplete without access to transparent and reliable information.
“At a time when disinformation and mistrust of the news media is growing, a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights,’’ he said.
In her statement, President of the UN General Assembly (PGA), Ms Maria Espinosa, said she was marking the day with a “heavy heart”, citing the UNESCO’s statistics.
Espinosa noted that the media space was shrinking across the world, “as restrictive laws and policies are enacted, and media workers and their families are subjected to threats and reprisals.
“Women are disproportionately affected, contending with sexist abuse and sexual harassment online, as well as physical sexual violence, including rape. Too often, these attacks go unpunished,’’ she said.
The PGA said that high-quality journalism and diverse media was needed more than ever at a time when extremism, hate speech and lies spread “like wildfire”.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay, said it was important that freedom of opinion was guaranteed through free exchange of ideas and information “based on factual truths.
Azoulay said societies that valued a free press needed to be “constantly vigilant’’, adding that nations must act together to protect the freedom of expression and safety of journalists.
The Group of Friends for the Protection of Journalists also noted that freedom of expression was indispensable for good governance, informed decision-making, democracy, free and fair electoral processes and accountability of governments.
The event, which featured a panel discussion on the theme of the day, was organised by the UN Department of Global Communications and UNESCO.
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